02/05/2021, 13.44
MYANMAR
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Military coup: hundreds of students and teachers protest in Yangon

They are gathered in front of Dagon University. UN Security Council: Free political prisoners. Asean: Return to the democratic path. Card. Charles Bo announces a day of prayer and fasting. Experts: block investments in sectors controlled by the military.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - Hundreds of students and teachers are gathered today in front of the Dagon University of Yangon to protest against the February 1 military coup. The demonstration is the most important act of civil disobedience since the military coup.

Demonstrators are shouting "long live mother Suu", a reference to Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader of the country until the coup, whose release they are demanding. They wear a red ribbon - the colour of the National League for Democracy - and wave a "three finger salute", also used by young pro-democracy demonstrators in Thailand.

Meanwhile, the arrests of the allies of Aung San Suu Kyi - head of the civilian government of the country until the military coup on February 1st - continue. This morning it was the turn of Win Htein, one of the historic leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD).

The 79-year-old supporter of Suu Kyi is among the approximately 150 people arrested by the military in recent days; according to the local Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners, the group includes parliamentarians, activists and officials linked to the deposed executive.

The military took control of the country by declaring a state of emergency for a year and placing the levers of power in the hands of General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces.

The coup d'état comes after the NLD won a landslide victory in last November’s parliamentary election, i n which the pro-military party won only 25 seats against 346 won by Suu Kyi’s party (with more than 80 per cent of the vote).

Yesterday the United Nations Security Council called for the release of all those arrested. However, the document lacks an explicit condemnation of the coup. A resolution to this effect has already been rejected by China and Russia on February 2.

In the meantime, diplomacy is beginning to move. The leaders of Indonesia and Malaysia today called for a special meeting of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Countries), of which Myanmar is a member.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin say the coup caused the country’s democratic process to take "steps backward", with the risk of destabilizing the entire region. Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand, however, have a different position: for the three Asean nations, what happened is an "internal issue" for Myanmar.

Until this afternoon (local time), local sources contacted by AsiaNews spoke of a "surreal calm", with banks, shopping centres, shops and offices still open. Acts of protest were repeated, such as banging pots and honking cars. As a result of similar gestures, four people, including a teenager, have been arrested in the past 24 hours.

The memory of past repressions terrifies people. The Armed Forces managed the country directly from 1962 to 2011. After an (almost) democratic transition, the NLD won the elections in 2015, the first free vote in 25 years: since then and until two days ago it has governed in coexistence with the military.

By law, the Armed Forces must occupy 25% of parliamentary seats and choose three key ministers: Internal Affairs, Defense and Borders. The army also controls the country's main economic sectors.

After invoking dialogue between the military and the NLD to overcome the crisis, Archbishop of Yangon and president of the Burmese bishops, Card. Charles Maung Bo, announced a day of prayer and fasting for 7 February. In a tweet, the cardinal said today that the country "can achieve the common good with love, justice, truth, peace and reconciliation".

Civil society is also on the move. NLD supporters have launched a petition on Change.org to save Myanmar from the military coup and honour the results of the latest elections. A similar initiative was also promoted by Italy-Burma.

On the economic front, pending possible sanctions by the US and the European Union, the Japanese beverage giant Kirin today closed its collaboration with a partner in Myanmar, which according to the UN has strong links with the military. For several observers, blocking foreign investment in companies controlled by the armed forces is the most effective means of putting pressure on Naypyidaw's generals.

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